The female inmates at the Coffee County Jail now have a chance to participate in a work program, with each day of work shaving two days off their sentences.
According to Lt. Rick Gentry, Coffee County jail administrator, the program for female workers had been in place “off and on” previously but never fully implemented.
The recent reduction of the total jail population – from more than 400 inmates to about 320 – has allowed for better implementation.
The women’s work program is similar to the men’s, both are administered out of the main jail and participants get two days off their sentences for each day of work.
The only difference is that men go outside of the facility for the assignments, working for Coffee County and Manchester City departments, while women work in the building, as kitchen, laundry, janitorial and library staff.
The men’s program was operated out of the jail annex until several months ago, when the annex was closed. The jail annex – also referred to as the workhouse – is located near the Coffee County Justice Center, about 4 miles from the main facility. Thirteen corrections officers had been assigned to the annex.
The closure of the annex has allowed for more manpower at the main jail facility. Because the men’s work program requires providing transportation and security to program participants, having more corrections officers at the main jail led to more participation in the men’s work program outside the facility.
A higher number of corrections officers at the main jail has also made it possible to fully implement the women’s work program.
The female inmates provide kitchen, laundry, library and janitorial services, said Gentry.
Usually, four women per shift work in the kitchen, and two women per shift work in the laundry room.
Niki Gregoire currently serves as the librarian. Gregoire keeps the library organized and offers books to the inmates.
“I make sure the inmates have library books,” she said. “It keeps them occupied. They send me a slip and I send them a book. If I don’t have that book, I would send them what I think they would want. They agree with me. I’ve seen people that are really happy with it. If we don’t have what they want, I will send them something else; that way they don’t have to go without.”
Not all inmates qualify for the work program.
Inmates undergo a medical assessment. Additionally, certain charges exclude inmates from eligibility. State inmates housed at the county facility are not eligible.
“Now we have 62 female inmates and 250 male inmates,” Gentry said. “We are limited with what we can do, but we try to work as many [female inmates] as we can. They work in the kitchen services here, they work in our library and they work in janitorial services. We just don’t have any programs for them to go outside the building.”
About 10 female inmates currently qualify for the work program.
With the larger pool of male inmates, the number of those qualifying to participate is naturally higher, said Gentry.
“When we have 250 men, we have more eligible men to do the program,” Gentry said. “And they get to go out and go to the street department and stuff like that.”
The hope, said Gentry, is for the sheriff’s department to further reduce the jail population by continuing to develop the work program, which would cut the participants’ sentences and better prepare them for the labor market.
“We are hoping we will have some projects working with industries to have more opportunities with the re-entry programs – for men and women,” Gentry said.
The workhouse was closed soon after Coffee County Sheriff Chad Partin took his new position Sept. 1.
According to Partin, the annex could be reopen if needed, but closing its doors has cut expenses and reduced staffing issues at the main jail facility.
Elena Cawley may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.